Cashed-up car collectors are spending up to $130,000 on classic Land Rovers rescued from farms around Australia.
A lack of rust, peerless originality and historical ties to the UK have made Australia the key source of vehicles for Land Rover Reborn, a restoration program that gives 70-year-old classics a new lease on life.
It helps that the man at the head of the program is Victorian expat Michael Bishop, a Gippsland boy who bought his first of many Land Rovers in the 1980s.
"There's a massive Australian link," he says.
"For all Land Rovers there's been roughly 80 per cent export, and in the 1940s and 50s, Australia was the biggest non-military export market, so if you're thinking early Land Rovers you have to be thinking Australia.
"It makes perfect sense because of the lack of rust and the authenticity - vehicles that go out into the outback tend to keep all their original parts... they're a bit more original in the southern hemisphere."
Australian cars have proved so original that the first fully restored car under the program was from Queensland and the reference vehicle for Land Rover Reborn is a 1940s example found on a farm in western NSW - literally out the back of Bourke. Bishop's team compare cars from around the world to that car to see what needs to be replaced as part of their program.
Launched at the Essen motor show in 2016, Land Rover Reborn was originally pitched as a run of 25 cars restored to original specifications so that they appear as new. The original allocation sold out within a week, so the manufacturer extended its run to 50-or-so models that are at least 50 years old.
Bishop's Australian contacts have helped supply the program with cars for wealthy collectors willing to spend £80,000 (more than $130,000) on early examples of the type. Some come from rural properties, while others are from the Snowy Mountains region where the Land Rover's rugged design and go-anywhere practicality earned plenty of respect.
Australia became a home to thousands of Land Rovers, which means Bishop's crew is spoiled for choice, and can afford to be fussy about the cars they restore before on-selling them to collectors.
Quality examples with original paintwork or aesthetically pleasing "patina" may be knocked back, as Bishop isn't keen to repaint and rebody cars that should be preserved in original condition.
Equally, too-far-gone cars with heavy damage or mismatched mechanical components will not work.
"We made 200,000 of them - it's not quite like Jaguar E-Types where there's not that many around," he says.
"With Land Rovers the survival rate was very high, so there are quite a few vehicles about."
Bishop says his program focuses on finding the right car to start with.
"The nature of the vehicle was like a Meccano set - you could pull them apart, you could change them, you could fit different engines from another manufacturer - all these things could happen," he says.
"For us it's about the authenticity, finding the right vehicles that haven't been molested or bastardised... a reborn vehicle has to have its original chassis, has to have its original firewall and engine or gearbox.
"Even though we do replace quite a few of the panels and things like that the core has to be the original vehicle."
The reborn program is set to shift from Gaydon, England to the new Jaguar Land Rover Classic centre in Coventry, where there is plenty of period equipment and advertising on display, including tools and punch cards used in Land Rover's first factory.
The brand also offers restored examples of first-generation Range Rover SUVs as well early Jaguar E-Type sports cars.
This story first appeared on drive.com.au